Sophia Firneno of the River Dell Golden Hawks girls volleyball team talks about state playoff semifinal win over Demarest

The 2021 River Dell Golden Hawks (20-3, 8-0 Big North Patriot) girls' varsity volleyball team have been on a roll this season. A team comprised of five seniors, four juniors, and three sophomores.

River Dell opened the season, winning their first five matches and dropping their first game on September 24th against IHA (Immaculate Heart Academy). The Golden Hawks followed up with a four-game winning streak before dropping their second game against Demarest on October 6th.

The Golden Hawks rebounded to win their next eight games in a row, including defeating Pascack Valley in three sets in the quarterfinals of the Bergen County Tournament at River Dell High School on October 22nd.

Facing Demarest for a 2nd time in the semifinals on October 24th, River Dell lost in straight sets 2-0. However, the Golden Hawks finished the regular season on a high note defeating Westwood.

On November 1st, River Dell opened the North 1, Group 2 state playoffs rolling past Jefferson in straight sets 2-0. Now the toughest test of the season would occur against a potent opponent and team that had won the first two meetings during the regular season in Demarest.

On a sizzling run, Demarest (22-1, Big North National) not only won their first 21 games of the season but did not drop a set. They eventually lost their first match to Ridgewood in the Bergen County Tournament Championship Game 2-1.

On Thursday, November 4th, the Golden Hawks played on Demarest's home court at Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest for a third time this season. River Dell won the first set 25-18, Demarest taking the second set 25-17. In the third set, the Golden Hawks pulled off the thrilling upset 25-21 to advance to the North 1, Group 2 state playoff final game against Old Tappan on November 9th.

A couple of hours after the dramatic victory, The Oradell Sports Round-Up had the opportunity to speak with senior Sophia Firneno about the dramatic win over Demarest.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: Hello Sophia, congrats to you and the rest of the team on winning Demarest and advancing to the state finals against Old Tappan at Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan next week. Demarest had your number this season, winning the first two games, but you were able to overcome when it counted.

Sophia Firneno: We worked hard leading up to this game, and we have been waiting for this game. We're so happy we got to beat them and show them what we got.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: Walk me through this past week leading up to the match and approach of the team.

Sophia Firneno: Throughout the week, we were trying to simulate their team. They hit the ball and pounded into the areas so the defense could get to those balls up. We were trying to get our hitters to avoid where defense usually plays.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: Let's talk about the match itself; the first set River Dell won 25-18, Demarest took the second set 25-17, and the Golden Hawks won a close third set 25-21.

Sophia Firneno: The first set, we started strong, and we came out showing what we got; then, as the game went on, it was crowded, pounding in all these kills and everyone getting up on every ball we could. It was great and gave us so much confidence going into the second set.

We came off the court feeling so good because we were the only other team besides Ridgewood to win a set against Demarest, so just getting that set was rewarding enough.

Going into the second set, we knew in our heads that we couldn't let that win overtake us, and we had to get the job done. We crumbled a little bit in the second set but not too much. Every once in a while, a couple of balls we messed up, but we went to the third set with the idea we did it in the first set we could beat them in the third set.

That is what gave us all the drive to push to beat them in the third set. Emmy Ehalt blocked that last ball, and we all dog-piled is probably the best experience I ever had in high school, and I don't think I will ever be able to replicate it.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: This was a formidable team, 22-1, 10-0 in the Big North National and third time playing on their home court and had their fans out in full force. Talk about playing on the road and their turf but coming out on top.

Sophia Firneno: Our school has been exciting us this whole week and pumping us up to prepare for this game. We had this idea; you can't beat a team three times now, so we're not going to let them beat us and couldn't let it happen.

Demarest is one of our biggest rivals, and we're not going to let them get that satisfaction of beating us more time. Beating them on their home turf, and our students' section was yelling, and it was just so great.

We have not been able to beat Demarest; we lost to them in the finals my freshman year at home, so that has been one of our driving forces. Luckily knock on wood; we have not had a big injury this season, we're sore going into practices, but that showed how hard we work on and off the court. Everyone comes out dripping in sweat and tired, but we also have fun, and it shows on the court.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: Can you talk about the state playoff quarterfinal win over Jefferson at home?

Sophia Firneno: We were kind of nervous; it just really came down to we were the higher seed and deserved to win that game. We all worked so hard, and winning in two sets made it so much sweeter.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: Can you talk about the team this season? A team with five seniors, four juniors, and three sophomores. Winning the first five in a row, then losing one and winning the next eight in a row. Even if there is a loss, the team bounces right back up.

Sophia Firneno: This team is so special; one loss means nothing to us. The second game is over; we're all having fun on the bus and looking past it and ways to improve. No one is sulking on the past and just looking to the future, and it's great. You can see it on the court and the game they are playing.

Alicia(Idiculla) is a powerhouse of a hitter, we had her since freshman year, and she has gotten so much better over the years. Watching her improve and slam the ball into the ground. Even the other juniors Lily Crowder, Emily Sinclair, and Emily Evancho, are key team components. They all play their part, do their job on the court, and show how much training they've gotten.

We have three sophomores, and Erin McCabe is our starting middle. She is the tallest girl on the court, got a huge presence, and is by far the best blocker on our team. We depend on her to get those balls down on the ground. I love having all of them on the team, and a great advantage.

Davan McHale and I have been on varsity for these past four years. Growing with her and the other seniors on the team has been an amazing experience. All of us have gotten so much better and improved in different parts of our game.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: Can you talk about the job the coaching staff has done led by Head Coach Dianne Furusawa?

Sophia Firneno: They have been coaching forever and seasoned veterans at this point. They have so much experience, won states, been to TOC’s (Tournament of Champions), and have great coaches that can handle this type of pressure and help push us through. They are a great help in training all of us and keeping us focused.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: Can you talk about the support from the River Dell High School students, athletic director Denis Nelson and athletic teams?

Sophia Firneno: We appreciate everything Mr. Nelson and his assistant (Lisa Corcoran) do for us. They get us the court time and make sure everything is squeaky clean and ready to go. There is never any dust or dirt.

Around the school, posters are hanging up saying 'Go Hawks', and our sports teams are supportive. Everyone is ready to go, and wearing their River Dell gear that is great.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: Can you talk about the support from your family?

Sophia Firneno: My family has been very emotional, they don't know much about volleyball, so when they come it's like an up and down/ When I get home, I get congratulations, and it's a great feeling because they are always there to support me.

The Oradell Sports Round-Up: The final question is, what does it mean to put on that Golden Hawks jersey and represent the school?

Sophia Firneno: When I put that jersey on, I play for the community, fans that are not even in the high school, graduated from high school, from Oradell and River Edge, young girls who want to be like us, and older people reminiscing.

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